2023 mayoral elections: Who owns Freetown?

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By Ishmael Dumbuya

The race for Freetown mayoral election seems to be very tight-fisted particularly as there’s a new kid on the block who is to some extent very influential especially as he is running under the ticket of the incumbent administration, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), and the incumbent mayor running under the All People’s Congress Party (APC).

Having assessed the candidature of the two people, I will like to highlight a brief comparative analysis between the two candidates.

For the sake of emphasis, we want to know who really owns Freetown.

Well, to a larger extent some might say Yvonne Aki- Sawyer is fully in control of Freetown, whiles others state that Gento could be a better mayor for FCC.

Yvonne Aki-Sawyer

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr in 2018 became Freetown’s first female mayor in 38 years. During her tenure however, she raised hackles with her style and for projects she prioritized.

“When you are assertive, you’re described as being stubborn. I heard that the other day, “she’s stubborn”. I’m like, “really?” If this was a man in my position, I don’t think the position he’d taken would be regarded as being stubborn. Why am I stubborn?  Is it because I have my own point of view? And I’m sticking to it,” she noted.

Yvonne Aki- Sawyer, a member of the main opposition party, the All Peoples Congress, announced on the 1st March 2023 at the Attouga Mini Stadium that she is running again for the mayoral seat. She handed over the mayoral chains to the Council’s Chief Administrator, Festus Kallay, in accordance with an order handed down to all mayors and chairpersons of Local Councils by the minister of local government to vacate office on 1st March 2023.

One of Aki-Sawyerr’s key goals has been to overhaul the city’s manual taxation system. With financial support from the UK Government, the mayor had satellite images taken and measured rooftops and other metrics to build up a digital property tax database.

She claims to have brought 70 percent more taxpayers into the system. She also raised rates on those already paying tax.

Arm-wrestling with government

But within days of its rollout, the programme was frozen by the national authorities for nearly a year, and compliance remains low.

“Effectively, the city had been running with no revenue,” she concedes. “And so it wasn’t really running. And so being able to explain to people that if you want your garbage collected, if you want, you know, trees planted, if you want the municipal schools maintained, if you just want service, it has to be paid for.”

It is common for Freetown mayors to go head-to-head with the central government. But the backlash Aki-Sawyerr has received for doing so seems unprecedented.

Unfortunately, she seems to be falling directly in their trap — she had had have a court matters until it’s time to nominate candidates for election.

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr has been audited, investigated for corruption and summoned to testify about her initiatives in parliament.

She has also fought charges of obstructing the police and disorderly behaviour over the arrest of one of her city councillors. He was accused of incitement over cost of living protests on August 10th 2022 which spiralled into anti- government riots.

Sympathizers and opponents

Some residents refused to pay property tax because they claim that it is unfair to raise rates on existing taxpayers, while providing inadequate services.

“I have to do the roads myself, I have to do the drains myself, and I’m paying property taxes?,” one Victoria doing business along Goderich Street noted, and also accusing her of milking the tax issue to appeal to poorer voters.
The mayor does have sympathisers. “She has a lot of challenges… but she still is pushing,” said Fatu Janneh, chairlady for Sewa Market Ground.

Last year, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr provided shades in markets to protect vendors from the hot sun. In the slums, she has worked with donors to construct public toilets and water taps.

But as Aki-Sawyerr’s first term has ended, much of her agenda has been thwarted by rows and legal battles.

Mohamed Gento Kamara

Another new kid on the block for the mayoral position is Mohamed Gento Kamara. Gento is an engineer and the owner of Gento Group of Companies.

Gento was endorsed by President Bio at the 13th National Delegates’ Conference of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).President Bio openly endorsed the candidature of Mohamed Gento Kamara as the only contending mayoral candidate who has been awarded the mayoral symbol to contest for the position.

A lot of Freetonians have raised concerns that Gento is unfit for the mayoral position because he is an engineer and not a politician. Over the years, we have seen Gento being  given series of contracts for road construction across the country and that has earned him some amount of popularity in Freetown.

Gento’s relationship with Freetonians

Honestly speaking, however, the popularity of Yvonne Aki- Sawyer largely surpasses that of Gento, as long as Freetown is concerned. On that note, Gento has promised the construction of more roads if he is elected. Over the past months we have seen Gento campaigning across the country to an extent even giving out money to win the loyalty and supports of Freetonians.

Couple of weeks ago, Gento uttered a statement that had Freetonians frowned at him. Mohamed Gento Kamara is facing a major backlash for preaching religious and tribal bigotry in a Freetown mosque.

The Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Council, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists , the opposition All People’s Congress ( APC ), the former President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Mrs. Basita Michael , prominent citizens and leading newspapers in the country have condemned Mr. Gento Kamara for his petulance. However, Gento later apologized for such a statement and noted that he made the statement in order to garner support from the Muslim community.

Mohamed Gento Kamara has promised to solve the basic needs of Freetonians including hygiene, noting that if elected he will work in the interest of all Freetonians residents within the municipality.

The SLPP Regional Chairman for Western Area Hon. Manso Dumbuya stated that Gento has a huge support in Freetown which is a clear manifestation that Freetonians are determined more than ever before to deliver Mayorship to the SLPP and that they are ready for a positive change. He therefore noted that he would use all his resources for this dream to come true.

He continued that he has three projects namely; sanitation, water, and sustainable electricity for the city of Freetown.

As the clock continue to tick towards June 24, 2023 it is usually the case in these trying times for those who are aspiring for political positions and especially the supporters of the two dominant parties, SLPP and APC  to keep outdoing themselves in trying to make themselves relevant to the electorates, win their support and votes.

While all the politiking is taking place, a rumour is been widely peddled physically and via the social media that Mohamed Gento Kamara, is mainly aspiring to be elected as Mayor of the Freetown Municipality because he is only interested in amassing wealth for personal aggrandizement and going further to state that he may want to use his position as Mayor to make himself filthy rich at the expense of residents of the Freetown Metropolis.

Gento continued that he has always reiterated  when addressing his people that his focal vision is to sway away from anything that will destroy the attainment of paradise underscoring that if becoming the Mayor of Freetown will contravene that he will ask God not to grant his aspiration.

He mentioned how he has always loved serving his people in their best interests and in the interest of Allah concurrently.

The affable, charismatic and result oriented political aspirant used the opportunity to beseech Freetonians to come together with undivided attention in making sure the leadership of the municipality of Freetown is saved from savages.

Gento pointed out categorically that he can tell, with no personal animosity, that the leadership of Freetown has dwelled in the hands of poor leadership calling on all to elect a reasonable leader who will serve in the interest of Freetonians.

He enjoined all to join the Gento Movement, vote him as the next Mayor and make the expected change for Freetown.

So the big question now is; can Gento’s popularity outweigh that of Aki-Sawyer or vice- versa?

It’s no secret that Yvonne Aki Sawyer has huge popularity in Freetown even though she is faced with a lot of challenges coming from the central government, she still owns Freetown.

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